Ukraine Update: Russia Says Weapons Convoys ‘Legitimate Targets’
A Russian official said convoys of military aid from the West are “legitimate targets” as the U.S. and Europe steps up the movement of supplies into Ukraine. The Russian military continues to target sites ringed around Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and intense fighting has been reported. Vladimir Putin spoke with his French and German counterparts.
Over 2.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country, with a majority crossing over to Poland, and that could climb to 4 million within days.
The European Union has proposed to double the size of a fund that provides weapons to Ukraine. It also disbursed 300 million euros in financial aid, with more to come. Additional EU sanctions are expected to be confirmed.
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All times CET:
Putin Holds Another Call With Scholz, Macron (3: 20 p.m.)
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated their demand for an immediate cease-fire and a diplomatic solution in a 75-minute call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Scholz’s spokesman.
Putin informed them of the “real situation” in Ukraine, the Kremlin said in an emailed statement. The Russian leader accused the government in Kyiv of “flagrant violation” of international humanitarian law.
Ukraine is using civilians as human shields as it deploys heavy weapons from residential areas, schools and other civilian sites, Putin said, according to the statement. Scholz earlier spoke with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, his spokesman said.
Russia Warns That Weapons Convoys ‘Legitimate Targets’ (2: 29 p.m.)
Russia warned that Western convoys of weapons deliveries to Ukraine are “legitimate targets,” stepping up its threats amid a major increase in military supplies to Kyiv’s forces.
“We have warned the U.S. that pumping weapons into Ukraine by a whole range of countries is not just a dangerous path but are actions that turn these convoys into legitimate targets,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Saturday on state television, as cited by the RIA Novosti and Tass news services.
President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Russia plans to step up weapons deliveries to separatist areas in Ukraine and send thousands of fighters from the Middle East to join its forces in the country.
Germany Pursuing Swift End to Russian Oil, Coal Dependence (1: 55 p.m.)
Germany is aiming to free itself from dependence on Russian coal imports by the fall and almost completely from Russian oil by the end of the year, according to Economy Minister Robert Habeck.
Ending the nation’s reliance on Russian gas is more complicated, as Germany doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure to handle imports of liquefied natural gas from other sources, Habeck told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, adding that urgent work is being carried out to address that. Germany gets about half of its gas and coal from Russia and around a third of its oil.
White House Briefs TikTok Stars: Washington Post (1: 30 p.m.)
U.S. National Security Council staffers and White House press secretary Jen Psaki briefed 30 TikTok influencers on Russia’s war on Ukraine, the Washington Post reported, citing a recording of the call.
“This is a critically important avenue in the way the American public is finding out about the latest so we wanted to make sure you had the latest information from an authoritative source,” the newspaper quoted Rob Flaherty, White House director of digital strategy, as saying.
The influencers were briefed Thursday about U.S. strategic goals and distributing aid to Ukrainians, as well as working with NATO and how the U.S. would react to any Russian use of nuclear weapons, the Post said. TikTok has become a dominant news source for millions.
Zelenskiy Presses Leaders to Help Secure Mayor’s Release (1: 26 p.m.)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked French and German leaders to press the Kremlin to release the mayor of Melitopol, a southern city now occupied by Russian troops. Ivan Fedorov, whose city’s civilians are protesting Russian occupation daily, was captured Friday.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz were set to speak with Russia’s Vladimir Putin Saturday, according to an AFP report.
“The demand is simple — to release him from captivity immediately,” Zelenskiy said Saturday in a video address. “We expect them, the world leaders, to show how they can influence the situation.” More than 2,000 people took the streets of Melitopol to demand Fedorov’s release on Saturday.
Poland Arranging Humanitarian Flights (1: 04 p.m.)
Some 1.596 million people have crossed from Ukraine into Poland since Feb. 24, authorities said. On Friday, 76,200 people were admitted, and another 17,700 crossed the border early Saturday.
Poland’s border guard said it’s helping to organize humanitarian flights for a small number of third-party nationals who’ve escaped from Ukraine, including citizens of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Commerzbank Follows Deutsche Bank in Ending Russian Business (12: 49 p.m.)
The German lender has stopped doing new business in Russia and is winding down existing transactions, a spokeswoman said. The bank said on Feb. 24 that its exposure to both Russia and Ukraine was manageable and had been reduced in recent years.
Deutsche Bank, Germany’s biggest lender, reversed course on Friday and joined competitors including Wall Street banks Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase in cutting business ties to Russia.
Russian Official Warns Finland, Sweden Over NATO (12: 33 p.m.)
A Russian foreign ministry official warned of unspecified “military and political consequences” should Sweden and Finland join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Sergei Belyaev told Interfax that the non-participation of the two countries in NATO was “an important factor in ensuring security and stability in northern Europe.”
The Nordic nations held high-level security talks a week ago about the changing security situation in Europe. Sweden’s prime minister on Tuesday cooled speculation about any near-term bid to join the defense bloc.
Italy Seizes Another Russian Superyacht (11: 12 a.m.)
The vessel seized by Italian financial police is owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko, founder of fertilizer company EuroChem, and is worth an estimated 530 million euros ($580 million).
It may be the world’s biggest sailing yacht and was docked in the port of Trieste in northern Italy, according to a statement from Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office.
Italian authorities previously detained superyachts owned by billionaires Gennady Timchenko and Alexey Mordashov as part of EU efforts to punish wealthy Russians with ties to President Vladimir Putin.
Russia Working on New Sanctions, Mulls Arms Control Talks (11: 12 a.m.)
Russia could resume arms control talks with the U.S. if Washington is ready to engage, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was cited as saying by Interfax news agency.
“We’re determined to do this, as well as to work under the START” agreement for nuclear arms reduction “where there is also a certain pause,” he said. The current New START treaty, which covers strategic nuclear weapons, was extended in 2021 to 2026.
Russia will soon release its list of countermeasures in response to recent U.S. sanctions, he added.
Major Poultry Producer Damaged by Fire (10: 59 a.m.)
The Kyiv-based food company MHP SE, Ukraine’s largest poultry producer, said a frozen food storage facility, the biggest of its kind in Ukraine, was damaged in a fire following Russian shelling, causing a loss of more than $7 million.
Major Ukrainian Food Exporter Flips to Feed a Nation at War
Poland to Shield Consumers From Food, Oil Price Surge (10: 50 a.m.)
Poland will prolong measures aimed at cushioning the impact of rising cost of gasoline and food on consumers, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Saturday. The package, known as the anti-inflation shield, was slated to end in July.
Ukraine Again Seeks to Evacuate Mariupol (10: a.m.)
The Ukrainian government sought again on Saturday to evacuate people from the port city of Mariupol, in the country’s east, after earlier attempts were hampered by Russian attacks in violation of temporary cease-fires.
The city has been heavily shelled for the past two weeks and remains encircled by the Russian army. That has cut off citizens from the supply of food and medicines. Local authorities said the city had to start burying people in mass graves, the Associated Press reported.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has described the humanitarian situation in Mariupol as “extremely dire” with small children, in particular, at risk of death by dehyrdation.
Japan Considers Additional Sanctions (9: 43 a.m.)
Japan has begun discussing domestic procedures for excluding Russia from preferential tariff treatment, Kyodo News reported Saturday, without attribution. Additional economic sanctions the Japanese government is considering, including tightening regulations on cryptocurrency transactions, are expected to be implemented as early as the coming week, according to Kyodo.
Belgium’s Russian Asset Freezes Hit 10 Billion Euros (9: 27 a.m.)
Some 10 billion euros ($10.9 billion) in Russian assets have been frozen by the Belgian government so far following sanctions imposed by the EU, the finance ministry told L’Echo newspaper. Those figures include 2.7 billion euros in frozen accounts and 7.3 billion euros in transactions, but don’t account for additional real estate and property assets that have been seized.
Almost all of these funds are newly frozen. Ten days ago, Belgium had frozen only 25.5 million euros in Russian assets, the paper noted.
Russia Continues to Target Sites Close to Kyiv (8: 41 a.m.)
Ukraine says the “situation is tense” in towns around the capitol as the government attempts to accelerate evacuations. Battles continue in Irpin, about 20 kilometers (16 miles) northwest of Kyiv, and near the airport at Hostomel. Russian troops are also shelling towns northeast of Kyiv.
Tass reported that Russia targeted two other sites near Kyiv: the military air base near Vasylkiv to the southwest, and a radar center at Brovary to the northeast. The sites were rendered non-operational, Tass reported, citing a Russian military officials.
Further afield, Ukrainian officials said Russia shelled residential areas in Chernihiv and dropped air-bombs on Sumy. Explosions were reported in Kropyvnytskyi, central Ukraine, where Russian forces targeted an airport, according to preliminary information. Russia continued shelling the southern city of Mykolaiv, including residential areas, Ukraine said. Local authorities in Luhansk, in far eastern Ukraine, said Russia now controls 70% of the region.
Refugee Flood Strains European Solidarity (6: 00 a.m.)
The number of people fleeing Ukraine could reach 4 million in days, matching the top overall projection of migrants by United Nations agencies before the war after less than three weeks.
While refugees have been greeted with an outpouring of support, their sheer number is beginning to weigh on the resources that eastern European nations have to take care of them.
“We have never been in such a situation,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said Thursday. “We are trying to cope with it, but if we don’t get international assistance, it may end up being a humanitarian catastrophe.”
Russian Agency Issues Threat on Space Station Crash (7: 36 a.m.)
Roskosmos, Russia’s state-owned space exploration company, has warned that the 500-tonne International Space Station could crash to Earth as a result of international sanctions.
The Russian news agency TASS reported that Dmitri Rogozin, the head of Roskosmos, said on his Telegram channel that he’ll write to ISS partners to demand the removal of sanctions.
The space station could “fall down into the sea or onto land,” Rogozin said, according to the Guardian.
U.S. State Department. Issues More Sanctions (2: 56 a.m.)
The U.S. State Department sanctioned Russian businessmen tied to ABR Management and Novikombank, seeking to target elites close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a release.
The sanctions apply to ABR Management and Yuri Kovalchuk, Kirill Kovalchuk, Dmitri Lebedev, and Vladimir Knyaginin for their ties to leadership within the company. Four Novikombank board members, chair Elena Georgieva, German Belous, Andrey Sapelin, and Dmitri Vavulin, were also sanctioned.
Pentagon Official Says More Jets Won’t Help Ukraine (7: 45 p.m.)
A U.S. defense official said it isn’t clear that Ukraine needs additional fixed-wing fighter aircraft like the MiG’s Poland offered earlier this week, but that it could use more surface-to-air and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft systems.
Ukraine’s air force has about 56 aircraft and they are only flying about five to 10 hours a day, the official said. That’s in part because of Russia’s wide coverage of Ukraine air space. So it makes no sense to U.S. officials that shipping additional jets to Ukraine will tip the balance, the Pentagon official said.
Two Weeks Into War, Russian Economy Rarely Fared Worse Than Now
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